Social Security Disability Appeals Process

Imagine you need to apply for disability benefits. You submit your initial application to the Social Security Administration (SSA). You included medical records that describe your medical condition in detail. You believe the records will prove your eligibility for Social Security benefits. 

SSA sends your disability application to your state's Disability Determination Services (DDS) office. To your surprise, they issue an adverse decision and deny your Social Security disability benefits.

What do you do next? You may choose to file an appeal. There are four levels to the appeals process for claims under Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI):

  • Reconsideration is the first level of appeal. This stage involves a review of your initial claim, including all submitted medical evidence. You must include any updated or new evidence since the first time you applied for benefits. You may either file for reconsideration online or complete Form SSA-561-U2 and submit it to your local Social Security office.
  • If SSA denies your request for reconsideration, the second level of appeal is a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Hearing offices continue to schedule hearings mostly by telephone and online video due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But a limited number of ALJ hearings are in person at the hearing offices. At the hearing, the ALJ may ask you questions about your medical condition or question a vocational expert. A vocational expert can testify about whether you can return to your previous job or do other work, given your functional limitations. The ALJ reviews all the evidence in your case, including any new evidence, and issues a hearing decision. Some claimants decide to hire a social security disability attorney or a non-attorney representative at this level of appeal.
  • If you receive a denial letter following the ALJ hearing, the Appeals Council review is the third level of appeal. There is no hearing at this stage. An Administrative Appeals Judge will review the ALJ's decision. They may issue a new decision or remand (send back) the case to the ALJ for further action. This may include another hearing and decision.
  • The final level of appeal, should your claim remain unfavorable, is to sue in federal court. Federal court review involves filing a civil action in your local U.S. District Court.

Learn More About Social Security Disability Appeals Process

  • Basics of Social Security Disability Appeals —A guide to Social Security disability appeals. Learn more about the different steps of the appeals. These steps are reconsideration, the ALJ hearing, the appeals council review, and the federal district court review.
  • Disability Reconsideration: Appealing a Denied Claim — A look at reconsideration, the first step of the Social Security disability appeals process. Find information on how to file a disability reconsideration request. Also, learn what to do if SSA denies your request for reconsideration.
  • Do You Need a Disability Benefits Attorney? — Find out why it may be beneficial to have an attorney on your side to handle your SSI and SSDI claim. Learn about the advantages of having an attorney help you with the application process and throughout your Social Security disability claim. Also, learn how to find the right attorney or law office for you.
  • Preparing for Your Social Security Disability Hearing — A detailed overview of Social Security disability hearings and what you can do to prepare. This article describes the things you testify about at the hearing and things you can do to prepare for it.
  • What Happens at a Disability Hearing? — Interested in learning about what occurs at a disability hearing? This article will give you an idea of what to expect, including where and when your hearing will occur and the general process involved.
  • How to Prove Disability — A guide to proving a disability when applying for SSDI benefits or SSI benefits. In this article, you'll find some tips on how to prove your disability case, including keeping a detailed journal of your activities and keeping copies of your medical records.

You Don't Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer's Help

Meeting with a Social Security disability lawyer can help you understand your options and how to protect your rights best. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer nearby to help you with your disability claim.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • The initial Social Security process doesn’t require an attorney
  • An attorney primarily handles claims that are denied
  • It can be helpful to have an attorney during Social Security benefit disputes or appeals

A Social Security lawyer can help protect your rights to your benefits.

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